Surprising Habits That Are Raising Your Cholesterol
"High cholesterol" is rarely spoken of in a positive context but not all cholesterol is created equal. "Overall, cholesterol is important for our bodies. We use cholesterol to do a variety of things," says Kate Kirley, MD. "Our body creates cholesterol whether we eat it or not and it's good to have for certain functions within our bodies. But there are some types of cholesterol that are potentially helpful and protective. We usually think of HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, cholesterol as somewhat protective for our hearts and blood vessels because it absorbs cholesterol and carries it back to the liver. We tend to think of LDL cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein, as the main type of cholesterol that we focus on as a potentially harmful cholesterol for our hearts because it collects in the walls of your blood vessels." Here are five unexpected habits that might be raising your bad cholesterol levels. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Birth Control Medication
Did you know birth control pills could impact LDL cholesterol levels and possibly lead to blood clots? "The main concern is if you have higher plaque levels that you might develop a clot on one of these plaques and have a stroke or a myocardial infarction (heart attack) or sudden cardiac death," says Dr. Ernst Rietzschel of Ghent University in Belgium. "That's the main risk with having plaque, with having atherosclerosis." If in doubt, speak to your doctor about which birth control is right for you.
Coffee and Cholesterol
Research shows coffee is linked to higher LDL cholesterol levels—but it's a complex situation. "There are certain types of coffee where the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels may be a little higher, like French press coffee, Turkish coffee and espresso," says cardiologist Dennis Bruemmer, MD, PhD. "Most of the LDL we have in our body is genetically predetermined. We can make it much worse by consuming the wrong foods. But your LDL wouldn't lower much if you stopped drinking coffee." The real problem, he says, is the ingredients people are adding to their brew. "Now we're not talking coffee anymore," says Dr. Bruemmer. "We're talking about cream and caramel, things high in sugar. They're consumed as a full meal and have 50 grams or more of sugar. Once you consider the cream and even the size you're talking about 600 calories, over a quarter of your daily calories right there. It's completely out of proportion to what moderation would be considered."
Just Being Alive!
Cholesterol levels tend to go up as we age (sometimes referred to as the "baby boomer heart"), which is why regular blood panel screenings are so important. "As we get older, cholesterol levels rise," says Cleveland Clinic. "Before menopause, women tend to have lower total cholesterol levels than men of the same age. After menopause, however, women's LDL levels tend to rise and HDL can drop."
Being a Diligent Employee
Are you sitting at your desk above and beyond what is required for your job? You might want to rethink that. "A large review of studies published in 2015 in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that even after adjusting for physical activity, sitting for long periods was associated with worse health outcomes including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancer," says Erin Donnelly Michos, M.D., M.H.S. "Sedentary behavior can also increase your risk of dying, either from heart disease or other medical problems. Even if you're doing 30 minutes per day of physical activity, it matters what you do the other 23 hours of the day."
Smoking and High Cholesterol
Not that you need a reason for quitting smoking outside of "it has zero benefits and is destroying your health," but smoking has been shown to raise LDL cholesterol levels. "Smoking is so bad for your heart, and smoking really truly is one of the worst things we could do, not just for your heart, but for your brain and your lungs and all sorts of things," says Dr. Cho. "It's really bad for your lungs. But these risk factors are additive. So you smoke and you have high cholesterol, you have now doubled your risk. You smoke, you have high blood pressure, and you have cholesterol, it's additive. It's really additive. So it's really important for your children, for yourself, for your longevity, but for your quality of life that you don't smoke."